Attacks on the Press | News Gathering | Protest

Oregon District Court Bars Federal Agents From Targeting Journalists

A flashbang thrown by federal law enforcement officials illuminates protesters during a demonstration against police violence and racial inequality in Portland, Oregon, U.S., July 24, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

On August 20th, U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon extended a preliminary injunction that prohibits federal agents from “arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force” against journalists or legal observers covering protests in Portland, Oregon. 

The order also bars federal agents from seizing equipment or press passes, from forcing journalists or legal observers to disperse, and requires agents to wear identifying markings on their uniforms. 

Previous story: Federal Agents Ordered to Stop Using Force, Threats, and Dispersal Orders Against Journalists in Portland 

The order arises from a class-action lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the City of Portland. The ACLU alleged that the agents sent by the Trump administration to protect federal property were targeting reporters and observers. The organization suspected the agents were deliberately using physical force and threats to discourage journalists from documenting their aggressive actions towards protesters.

Though federal agents disputed this claim, alleging that any injuries sustained by journalists had been incidental, the judge was unconvinced.

The fact that there are some violent offenders, however, does not give the Federal Defendants carte blanche to attack journalists and legal observers and infringe their First Amendment right,” Simon said in his decision. 

“The courts have held that the proper response to potential and actual violence is for the government to ensure an adequate police presence and to arrest those who actually engage in such conduct, rather than to suppress legitimate First Amendment conduct as a prophylactic measure,” Simon wrote, citing the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In a statement published on the ACLU of Oregon site, attorney Matthew Borden called the decision “a crucial victory for civil liberties and freedom of the press.” 

“Having a free press is critical to the functioning of our democracy. The court’s order affirms that the government cannot use violence to control the narrative about what is happening at these historic protests,” Borden said.

Order ACLU Statement